I recently read an essay written by my son, Simon, who is currently 15 years old. The paper was on the pursuit of happiness, and I was pleasantly surprised that one of his primary arguments was crafted around something he had learned in Sunday school. The teaching had come from his 7th grade Sunday school teacher, Dolph Simon, who said, “In order to make a change for the better, changing your attitude in order to change your behavior will not work. You have to change your behavior to change your attitude.”
As I read this essay, my heart swelled with pride. I was proud of Simon who found a way to apply what he was learning in Sunday school to his everyday life, and I was proud of Simon’s Sunday school teacher, Dolph, who consistently inspires our students to apply what they learn to how they live.
Reading this small part of Simon’s essay reminded me that Sunday school should not exist in isolation. The hope is that our children will apply the values they learn in class to making this world a better place. This hope is embedded in our parenting strategies as well, as our responsibility to transmit our faith to the next generation can, at times, be very challenging.
As Jewish parents, we try our best to provide our children with ways to weave their Jewish values into the fabric of life in a secular world. We want our children to be proud and loyal to their heritage, but when the demands and rhythms of Jewish life compete with those of secular life, major challenges arise.
One of the many ways to approach these growing challenges is to model, through our own behaviors, the values we hope our children will embrace. We often tell our children, “Do what I do and not what I say,” and the same should be true as we seek to transmit the values and customs of our faith. In Sunday school and at home, we can talk a good talk about our Judaism, but if our children do not see us applying our Judaism to everyday life, our words simply become nods to the past. However, if we are truly committed to transferring the lessons of our heritage from generation to generation, then each of us needs to find ways to inspire our children (and others) to live what they learn.
In just a few weeks, Jews around the world will gather around their Seder tables in celebration of Passover. Through the rituals and the rites of the Seder meal, we all become students of our faith as values concerning human freedoms and issues around social justice are woven into the fabric of the Passover feast. As we re-enact the story of our ancestral Exodus from Egypt from year to year, we remind ourselves of the importance of applying the values of our heritage to the transformation of the world. This year, may we each find ways to apply what we learn to what we do.